On the Hill

Graduates share top-secret work and friendship

Angela Rye, left, and Jill Butler, both attended an alumni event in Washington, D.C. to meet other graduates working in the area. Photo by Greg Dohler.

For most attorneys, keeping a lid on privileged information is all about professional ethics. But for recent Seattle University School of Law graduates Angela Rye and Jill Butler, it's a matter of national security.

Rye '05 and Butler '07, serve as staff attorneys for the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security. Rye is senior advisor and counsel to the committee, responsible for overseeing federal minority business contracting issues at the Department of Homeland Security, as well as broad-level political strategy for the committee.

Butler serves as investigative counsel to the committee, charged with investigating allegations of abuse and waste at the Department of Homeland Security. She also handles diversity training for the department.

Both are required to maintain top-secret security clearances. "If we told you something (confidential) we'd go to jail," Rye says.

Despite the seriousness of their jobs and the high-stakes environment they work in, it's clear that neither is in danger of buckling under the stress. If anything, they both seem to be having the time of their lives.

"We both do a good job of balancing work life and social life," Rye says on her way home from a School of Law alumni event she and Butler attended. "We're friends outside of the office so we hang out together."

And for young African American lawyers, serving in the nation's capital now is particularly gratifying. "That I get to be on Capitol Hill during the first African-American president's administration is amazing," Butler said.

"The energy is different," Rye said of the change President Obama has brought to her adopted city. "Tons of people moved here from around the country to work in an environment where change seems possible."

Butler agrees. "I really love D.C. and I enjoy working on the Hill," she says. "It's the caliber of people D.C. attracts, the intellectual capacity. It's a very fast-paced environment."

It's one Rye nearly missed out on. In her last year of law school, she had lined up a job at the Cochran Firm. "I was so excited," she says. However, when Johnnie Cochran died shortly before her graduation, Rye began to reconsider. "After a lot of prayers and counsel with my parents and friends, I decided to go to D.C."

Initially, she wasn't working on Capitol Hill, but was a lobbyist for historically black colleges and universities. When Democrats assumed control of the House, she decided it would be a good time to make her move to the Hill and went to work for the Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-MS.

"I love Capitol Hill," she says now. "I don't regret for a minute coming out here."

In her first year after law school, Rye also co-founded the non-profit IMPACT with four others. The organization is aimed at helping young professionals of color by encouraging civic engagement, political involvement and economic empowerment. Among its tools is a job site "to help folks get on Capitol Hill and into the executive branch and the private sector by helping them hear about jobs they might not otherwise hear about." Today, Rye serves on IMPACT's board as director of strategic partnerships.

Lending encouragement and guidance to those following close behind her is nothing new for Rye. It's how she and Butler originally met.

"We have a mutual friend who told me Jill was thinking of coming to Seattle U," Rye said of their original introduction. "I wanted her to come because I wanted to have diversity in her class. It's important to me that people of color realize what a warm and welcoming environment there is at the law school."

Butler recognized that quality right away. "I think SU does a good job of reaching out to its minority students and teaching students from diverse backgrounds in general," she says. The School of Law supports other types of diversity, Butler says. "There was a commitment to students drawn to the law to work on social justice issues as well as those who wanted to go into corporate law," Butler said. "They supported you, whatever your interests were."

Rye concurs. "I think they meet you where you are and do whatever they can to nurture you to get to the next level."

For both women, that meant being active members of the National Black Law Students Association. The law school was extremely supportive of their work with the organization, Rye says. "They understand the importance of connecting students beyond the four walls of the university and encouraging students to be involved in things like NBLSA . "I'm forever grateful."

Trips to the nation's capital for NBLSA work had a serious impact on Butler. "I fell in love with D.C. and moved here right after law school."

New in town and looking for work, she called Rye, who immediately encouraged her to look at the House Homeland Security Committee. The two had worked together on the NBLSA board, "so for me it was a no-brainer to have her on another team," Rye says.

That extends to IMPACT as well. Though she's not on the board with Rye, "I really like the mission of the organization so I'm a very dedicated volunteer," she laughs.

If their shared educational experience, workplace and volunteer efforts don't give them enough in common, Rye and Butler share another distinction. Each has been named as among the most beautiful people working in D.C.

Butler was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill this summer by the Congressional newspaper "The Hill."

It's an honor she declined last year, but Rye convinced her to take it this time around. "I said, 'Sister-friend, you really should use the opportunity to highlight some of the work you do. Just don't let them put some crazy description on you.'"

That last bit of advice came from personal experience. Rye was featured in BET's "The 14 Hottest Blacks Working on Capitol Hill" and dubbed "Homeland Security Hottie."

Rye wasn't amused. "It's very important that people don't look at me for what they see on the outside, but for the substance," she says.

By Cheryl Reid-Simons

Winter 2009-10